This month I want to talk about the effects of stress in our personal and professional lives and particularly how I choose to handle it.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety cautions that “workplace stress is the harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands.

In general, the combination of high demands in a job and a low amount of control over the situation can lead to stress”.

No matter what environment you work in there will be an element of stress to deal with. Therefore, it is beneficial to know our anxiety triggers and manage them well so that our health will not be adversely affected.

Workplace Coach, Maureen Moriarty, explains that “one of the greatest challenges leaders face is dealing with stress. A leader’s response to stress can be contagious and leaders who display fear, anger, resentment and anxiety under stress can be toxic to their people and the business”.

A leader’s response to stress sets the tone for everyone around them. People will remember what we do more than what we say so we should lead by example especially when it comes to managing our stressors.

These simple steps can be used to monitor your own stress levels and those of your employees:

a) Practice effective management of your activities according to your schedule

b) Don’t micromanage your staff

c) Set realistic goals and timelines

d) Encourage your employees to take their vacations each year

e) Manage and monitor their workloads

f) Enroll in a wellness program and encourage your employees to do the same

g) Provide avenues for psychological evaluations when needed, like employee assistance programs.

I am a very driven and focused person so it’s normal for me to push myself too hard sometimes. Several years ago when I still worked in the corporate space, I had a heavy workload that consisted of me working on ten projects of varying sizes at once. I thought I was doing pretty well until one day my body literally started shutting down.

It started with a massive headache which would not go away. My boss advised me to go home for the day and while driving home I became dizzy and almost fell asleep at the wheel. Thankfully, I got home safe and went straight to bed.

I slept for about eight hours straight before waking up. I got out of bed at about 9:30 PM EST and went to the kitchen to get some tea. The next thing I remembered is waking up on the floor at about 11:20 PM.

I had lost consciousness for approximately two hours and woke up to an excruciating pain in my side where I had fallen. The next day my doctor confirmed that I was exhausted and stressed and encouraged me to take some time off from the office.

After that experience, whenever I begin to feel overly stressed, the first thing I do is to rearrange my workload and disperse due dates. Back then I would forego taking my morning and afternoon breaks, but that changed very quickly after that scary experience.

I purposed to take my breaks by going outside the building for short walks. I also started taking what I call “mental days” once every three months to just relax at home and do nothing, or go for a spa day.

Just last month (February) I experienced another bout of exhaustion, albeit a smaller one. I recognized the symptoms so this time my response was immediate. I wisely:

  • Minimized my workload and took a much-needed break from all activities

  • Allowed myself to rest i.e. sleep whenever my body wanted to

  • Turned off the cell phone at certain points of the day

  • Limited my use of social media

  • Doubled up on my meditation time

  • Confided to close friends and family how I was feeling to make sure I had the support that I needed.

The best way to manage stress is to first become aware of your triggers. Other ways to ensure that you are maintaining control of your stress levels are to eat healthy and exercise regularly, set healthy boundaries and include lots of relaxation time in your routine.